BOUNCE: The ACAC and NECC Tournaments delivered and should quench thirst for mid-season brackets

Adams Central boys basketball, the 2023 ACAC Tournament champions; the 100th year of the ACAC boys basketball tournament. (Adams Central Athletics Twitter photo)

The ACAC and NECC Tournaments have come and gone with champions named from four different schools.

Congrats to the girls teams from Fairfield and Jay County as well as the boys teams from West Noble and Adams Central for their titles on Saturday night. The champions may not have been a surprise. We kind of expected those teams to make a run, even if they were not all specifically Bounce’s picks to come out champions.

But what the two tournaments should have done is quench the area’s thirst for in-season conference tournaments.

So did they?

Fans have clamored for the return of the SAC Holiday Tournament. But for now, the SAC has moved on. Teams are competing in other tournaments or even hosting their own at this point during the same time frame.

But the ACAC and NECC are still rocking with their tournaments, holding course and putting on really good basketball action.

So here is my plea for next year for city fans: ignore the tournament that isn’t coming back anytime soon and embrace these two classic tournaments that continue to be laden with top area talent and fun games. Because while the other fans of the 260 were able to enjoy these two tournaments this week, not all of those old school SAC fans did. And what they missed was fantastic.

The girls ACAC Tournament saw a pretty predictable finish; but predictable and dominant are not always bad. Renna Schwieterman led Jay County to yet another title and by doing so continued to separate herself as arguably the best female basketball player to ever compete in the ACAC. She is now a three-time ACAC Tournament MVP, joining Lori Hissong (1989-1991) as the only people to ever do that. In the meantime, she was able to move to No. 2 all-time in ACAC scoring, a record race that we’ve been tracking all season.

Do yourself a favor and go see Schwieterman and the Patriots before the season ends. She’s one of the best players we’ve had in this area in years and if you haven’t seen her, you need to before she moves on to the hardwood at Purdue Fort Wayne next year. She scored 21 points last Tuesday in a 74-20 win over Heritage and added 17 in the title game Saturday against Woodlan.

On the boys side, Adams Central survived a bit more of a gauntlet. The bracket was a lot of fun with some tough challengers putting up big games, including the title game between the Flying Jets and Woodlan that went to AC 59-48 in overtime. In the end, Aaron McClure coached Adams Central to a title in the 100th annual iteration of the event, the oldest tournament of its kind in the state. It was the first ACAC Tournament title for Adams Central since 1976 as junior Isaac Schultz powered his way to the MVP award, including some thunderous dunks along the way.

Earlier in the week, the ACAC boys side got fireworks starting on Tuesday when Heritage edged Jay County 29-28 on a Kobe Meyer three pointer with 16 seconds to play.

The NECC girls tournament was a fun one to predict. Fairfield was obviously the favorite, but with Central Noble entering undefeated and one of the last unbeaten teams in the state, there were some questions. Fairfield answered them all with Brea Garber playing very well and Morgan Gawthrop posting one of the best games of her career with 23 points on Saturday night to push Fairfield to the title.

The win means a lot of the Garber family can now call themselves NECC Tournament champions. The last time the Fairfield girls won the title in 1996, Brea’s mother Amy (Bechtel) Garber was part of the team. Brea’s father Brodie, also her current coach with the Falcons, won a NECC Tournament title as a player in 1995. Could Brea’s brother Brant be next up? While the Falcon boys didn’t capture a title, they did play a great overtime game on Tuesday where they fell short to Prairie Heights. But in that game, Brant Garber sent the game to overtime by hitting three straight free throws with seconds left in regulation to put the Panthers on the edge of their seats. Despite big shots from the freshman, Prairie Heights hit two of its own from the stripe with a minute left in OT from Chase Bachelor that gave Prairie Heights the win.

Another highlight of the NECC girls tournament this week was Alivia Rasler’s record-setting performance on Tuesday as she set a Lakeland single game steals record with 14.

The NECC boys side ended up going to West Noble as Austin Cripe continued to showcase why he is so dominant when he wants to take over a game. The Chargers didn’t have an easy week at all, but they continued to find ways to power through. Cripe was fantastic on Saturday night, saving his best performance of the season for a championship moment, which has to give Coach Ethan Marsh and the West Noble faithful a lot of hope as the boys season heads down the home stretch and towards the postseason. Cripe scored 33 points in the title game to give West Noble its first NECC title since 2014.

On Wednesday, it looked like Westview had the Chargers number leading 45-39 after three, only to fall 56-52. On Friday in the semifinal round, West Noble beat Prairie Heights 39-33 after the game was tied at 33.

Tuesday’s game between Fremont and Garrett was a lot of fun too. A rubber match of these two teams who clearly know each other well saw the Railroaders lead early on the hands of Kyle Smith and a smooth midrange game. In the end, Fremont’s defense won out in the second half as it really slowed the Railroaders and saw Conner Slee put up 18 points, followed by 17 from Ethan Bontrager. Bounce was impressed though with that Eagle defense as Corbin Beeman continued to be one of the best charge takers in the area, drawing two 15 or more feet away from the basket.

In the end, kudos too goes out to Woodlan and Central Noble, who came out of the week without a title but saw both their boys and girls teams reach finals. Taylor Kneubuhler continued her torrid pace on Tuesday with 20 points in the Woodlan win over Bluffton. Also on Tuesday, Braden Smith dropped 24 and outdueled Bluffton’s Tucker Jenkins (19 points) to get the Warriors a win.

The Central Noble girls stayed unbeaten until the tournament finals, including a 22 point performance out of Madi Vice on Wednesday to stop longtime rival Angola. For the Central Noble boys, you have to highlight Conner Lemmon’s week that included 22 points in Wednesday’s win, also over Angola.

All in all, the week was great and should be recognized for that. The SAC Holiday Tournament was always a lot of fun and few, if any, would debate that. But the ACAC and NECC Tournaments can be even more fun as they spread out host sites and work their way through a week. This year was one of the best and most balanced set of brackets in years and kudos goes out to those conferences for putting on a show.

Those conference keep raising the bar. Next year, Bounce can only expect an even better showing.

These opinions represent those of Bounce and Outside the Huddle. No opinions expressed on Outside the Huddle represent those of any of our advertisers. Follow Bounce on Twitter at Bounce_OTH

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